For here and now the new valkyries ride
The Spanish constellations
As over the Plaza Cataluña
Orion lolls on his side;
Droning over from Majorca
To maim or blind or kill
The bearers of the living will,
The stubborn heirs of freedom
Whose matter-of-fact faith and courage shame
Our niggling equivocations-
We who play for safety,
A safety only in name.
Whereas these people contain truth, whatever
Their nominal façade.
Listen: a whirr, a challenge, an aubade-
It is the cock crowing in Barcelona.
Sleep, my body, sleep, my ghost,
Sleep, my parents and grand-parents,
And all those I have loved most:
One man’s coffin is another’s cradle.
Sleep, my past and all my sins,
In distant snow or dried roses
Under the moon for night’s cocoon will open
When day begins.
These lines from MacNeice’s poem written in 1938 sadly seem apposite today. The lines refer to the bombing of Barcelona when fascists killed some 1300 people. They also refer to his response which is to seek solace in sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Barcelona
For a fascinating discussion of MacNeice’s work take a listen to https://www.lrb.co.uk/podcasts-and-videos/podcasts/close-readings/on-louis-macneice
Now, of course the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the melancholy tone of Autumn Journal resonates with my personal feelings about current events. Firstly, weapons have become vastly more destructive and in a few days the casualties and destruction have become enormous and sadly mch more about to be revealed. In both conflicts, ethnic and religous belief would appear to be active. Although mercenaries and International Brigades are involved the ideological factors such as a belief in Marxism are radically different in form.
The cock which crowed in respect to Barcelona is an Easter image relating to betrayal. Just as with Covid the current response by politicians to the current crisis is totally underwhelming and indicates too how domestic and isolationist narratives have obscured a wider view as to how to resolve or even contain this conflict.
So this melancholia pervades from 80 or more years ago-
Our niggling equivocations–
We who play for safety,
A safety only in name
One reply on ““Autumn Journal” revisited this Spring”
Thanks for introducing me to MacNiece – and for the linked podcast.